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Book swapping in London

Bringing book swapping to Acton Central station

In a guest post for Books for London, Sara Nathan writes about her experiences setting up a new book swap in Acton Central station this summer.

I wasn’t enthused by the Olympics before they actually happened. Of course by the end I was as much of an obscure-sports junkie as anyone else and had even attended several events – some of which I’d actually paid for.

But even I noticed well in advance that Acton Central station was on the route to the Olympic stadium over in Stratford and it occurred to me that there were going to be a lot of people sitting on that train for a long time with possibly very little to do.

Aha! I thought. My contribution to the Olympics coming to London will be to provide books to all those people on those trains.

So I started to research how to do it. Firstly I talked to the station staff who gave me their manager’s number. Poor woman, I called her every week from April to July. I spoke to other people at LOROL and TfL (transport is run by acronyms) and each time I was told that a decision was about to be made and it looked good.

While that was pending, I found the Books for London website and garnered a number of tips. Then I met the brains behind it, Chris Gilson, bizarrely at a quiz supper in a draughty West Ealing church.

I needed a bookcase, books, some helpers, some stickers and a poster of two.

As chair of the Churchfield Community Association, focussed on Acton Central Ward where the station lies, this was all possible. In the end, Chris provided the bookcase and the first 21 books and then the locals moved in and took over. Ellie had run a bookstall at Acton Market till recently and still had lashings of enthusiasm and thousands of books stashed away, Chris had enthusiasm but few books and I had many virtual contacts and a lot of determination.

Just before the Olympics started, I left a message on Angela’s (of TfL) phone. “I haven’t heard” I said, “So I am putting in the bookcase this weekend. Call me if this is a real problem”. She didn’t, so I did.

My husband and I picked up the bookcase from Ealing, installed it that afternoon and the 21 books – all of which I had entered into the bookcrossing site, and stuck bookswap labels in – and went home.

Next morning there were no books left.

That was the end of bookswapping: we needed more books out there and fast. Ellie swung in, neighbours donated, ActonW3.com came up with some and Streetbank.com garnered several more donors.

At one point we were putting in at least 200 books a week. One neighbour, a children’s publisher, put in 60 children’s books, another donated the complete Harry Potter. They all went overnight.

By early August we had a colourful notice up, sticky-backed labels encouraging people to return the books and a swelling enthusiasm from those using the station and the staff working there.

Not many books have returned to the shelf yet. And I still don’t know who donated the volume on sex toys, who borrowed it and whether it will ever return.

All I do know is that there is a voracious appetite for books out there: from Fodor’s Guide to Portugal to Jilly Cooper; from Sylvia Plath’s poetry to John Grisham and Phillip Pullman. Everything seems to find someone who wants to read it.

No downsides so far. We don’t think people are taking heaps to resell – no evidence and where’s the market anyhow? We’re not inhibiting local booksellers’ trade; there aren’t any.

In fact it all seems jolly positive: the vibe is good; people are taking unwanted books home so they are not going into landfill and the community as a whole is enthusiastic and surely benefitting.

So, if you are passing, do please take a book – or leave us a few.

Follow Sara Nathan on Twitter.

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